Cherries for Grown-Ups
I read recently that cherries are one of the only foods that are hard to enhance beyond their natural form. Specifically, the comment was that “nothing captures the essence of a cherry like a cherry.” (See Ideas in Food, one of the coolest, most inspirational sites I’ve found.) And it’s so true, isn’t it? Their texture and flavor are really best when eaten straight out of the fridge, and when I think of cherries, that’s what I think of – how refreshing a cold cherry is in the middle of the summer. For weeks I’ve been thinking about this and eyeing the piles of beautiful red cherries, and last week, when I saw the $1.99/lb sign, I finally bought some. (Although they initially rang up at $7 a pound. Seven dollars? Per pound?! Thank you very much but I’d rather have two pounds of steak at that price.) And as I ran through things I might do with them in my mind, they slowly disappeared, one after the other, into my mouth. I mean, come on, they’re fun to eat – you get to daintily pluck them off the stems with your teeth and roll them around in your mouth before fully biting into them. Then your mouth is full of sweet juice, and you get to undecorously spit out the pits. And your lips and fingers get all stained with cherry juice. And maybe it’s a little bit sexual. I digress.
So the cherries remained in their perfect, natural form for several days. But two pounds is a lot of cherries for one person to eat alone, and those beautiful, perfect cherries were beginning to get soft. They needed to be used, and so I began to think. Key to my musing was the fact that I wanted to share the goodness of cherries with Trevor, who, although he continues to eat them rebelliously, is allergic to most fruits with pits unless they’re cooked. So I wanted to go against my better judgment and achieve the impossible – to cook the cherries while maintaining their integrity, and also enhancing their flavor.
As I browsed through cherry recipes, I found that I kept clicking recipes with titles like “Boozy Cherry Molasses,” “Red Wine and Cherry Soup,” and “Kirsch-Soaked Cherry Sauce.” Hmmm. There was a trend. And just like that, I knew what I wanted. I closed all of those recipes, and I just started inventing. Into a saucepan went stemmed and pitted cherries, then some rum, some red wine, some lemon juice, sugar, corn-starch. I almost added black pepper but I didn’t want to push it. I think it might work though. I’m trying it soon. Then the cherries, robbed of their integrity despite my best efforts, went into the blender, and back into the pan. I tasted it – the flavor had been enhanced, decidedly. It was one of those rare times when tinkering in the kitchen goes completely right.
Now I had a pot full of delicious, boozy, fragrant cherry puree, and it needed a stage. What I really wanted was danish. Cherry, cream cheese, and almond danish, but grown-up, elegant, subtle. I was all ready to go, cherries simmering, cream cheese softening, philo sheets defrosting on the counter, when Trevor reminded me, again, that philo and puff pastry are not the same thing. Having never used either, I get confused. Frequently. So the philo went back in the freezer, the cream cheese went back in the fridge, and the cherries continued to simmer. Now what?
The answer came to me quickly – brownies. Ever since I saw these brownies on 101 cookbooks, I’ve been continuously craving a cherry-chocolate brownie. My original plan was to wait until I got around to getting some dried cherries and kirsch, and do the whole soaking thing, but I decided that this puree would have exactly the effect I wanted. So brownies, tinged with almond flavor and swirled with cherry puree, were created. And they were chewy, moist, chocolatey, nutty, fruity, boozy, goodness. Things in the kitchen are going right.
P.S. I haven’t given up on the idea of the cherry danish. As soon as I get the time to make some puff pastry it will be here. Hopefully on Friday. Stay tuned.
Grown-Up Cherry Puree
Makes 1 1/2 cups
- 1 lb cherries, washed and pitted (yields around 3 cups)
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 6 TBS red wine
- 4 TBS rum
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 4 tsp cornstarch
- 4 tsp water
- In a medium pot, combine cherries, sugar, wine, rum, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring and pressing the cherries apart with the back of the spoon.
- Remove the cherries from the heat and carefully pour into blender. Pulse 3 or 4 times, just enough to break the cherries up into small pieces. (You want the puree to have some texture, and the fruit will break down more as it continues to cook).
- Return the cherries to the stove, and continue cooking over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water until cornstarch is fully dissolved. Slowly pour the cornstarch into the hot cherries, stirring constantly. Cook the cherries for another 5-10 minutes, stirring continuously, until they have started to thicken. Depending on the desired consistency of the cherries, you may need to use more or less cornstarch.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool. Keep cherry puree in airtight container in fridge.
Grown-up Cherry Brownies
- 3/4 c. + 2 TBS cake flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (2/3 c. chocolate chips)
- 1 stick butter
- 1 1/2 c. sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1/3 c. grown-up cherry puree
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8×8 baking pan.
- In a small bowl, whisk together cake flour, salt, and baking powder, set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine butter and chocolate. Microwave for 15 second intervals, stirring vigorously in between, until chocolate and butter form a thick, completely smooth, mixture. Do not over-microwave or you will burn the chocolate. This step can also be done in a double boiler.
- Whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Incorporate eggs one at a time. Whisk in almond extract.
- Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture in 3 batches, gently stirring with a spatula in between additions. When flour is fully incorporated and batter is smooth, pour into prepared pan and smooth top with spatula. Spoon cherry puree on top of brownies and drag your spatula through the puree and brownies, swirling in large motions, as you would to marble a batter. Smooth top as best you can. Bake for 40-50 minutes.